June 8, 1935 – June 13, 2012
Peter Gott was a small-town doctor. But in some sense, his patients included all of us — or at least the millions of people who read his syndicated medical column during its almost-30-year history.
Gott’s column had its roots in a feature he wrote for his local paper, The Lakeville (Conn.) Journal, on the dangers of mixing bleach and ammonia to use as a cleaning solution. He started writing articles regularly, which eventually grew into a column answering readers’ questions. “Ask Dr. Gott” was syndicated nationally from 1984 to 2011, when it moved mainly to publication online.
Topics encompassed everything from homespun remedies (such as inserting soap between the sheet and the mattress to allay leg cramps) to weight-loss guidance to discussions about the end of life. A column on that last subject prompted a reader to call him “Kevorkian Lite.” Gott published that letter, too, responding that “letting a loved one die without disrespect, discomfort, and hopeless medical intervention is humane and appropriate.”
The daily column was so popular because Gott “was a compassionate individual who wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself,” says Pat Miller, Gott’s partner in life and work. She was the office manager at his medical practice and helped with the column — her duties included opening the 2,500 or so letters that arrived each week.
Gott was particularly known for championing patients’ rights and chiding his fellow physicians for their less-than-stellar habits, such as keeping patients waiting for a long time for no good reason. When that happened, he told patients to bill the doctor “heavily,” says Miller. “He said, ‘Your time is worth something.’ ”
Did anyone get a check as a result of such a letter? “I quite doubt it,” says Miller. “But it made some people chuckle, and it made doctors fume.”
Gott wrote the column on weekends, while also maintaining a solo practice and making visits to nursing homes and to two private schools where he was medical director. He retired in 2006, after exactly 40 years in practice.
His column continues, using a stockpile of questions and physician-reviewed answers.
Katherine Hobson ’94 is a freelance writer who has specialized in health and science reporting.
CLICK HERE to watch a video of Peter Gott ’57